Qantas Airways will add extra economy-class seats to its fleet of Boeing 737s in a move that will boost the capacity of the primary workhorse of its domestic fleet by 3 per cent.
The addition of six extra economy-class seats at the rear of its fleet of 71 of the aircraft will be made possible by changes to the galley and lavatory space.
"Importantly, there will be no change to the amount of seating space each customer has," Qantas Domestic chief executive Lyell Strambi said.
The airline won't reduce the number of lavatories in economy class as part of the changes but will install a new slimline facility.
Qantas, which is expected to report a pre-tax annual underlying loss of more than $700 million, has been working to improve the economics of its 737 fleet.
It has changed some of its engineering procedures and increased the number of quick turnarounds to boost the utilisation of the fleet.
Qantas currently has 12 business class and 156 economy class seats in its 737s, for a total of 168 seats. That will rise to 174 seats under the new configuration.
Rival Virgin Australia Holdings has eight business class and 168 economy class seats in its 737s for a total of 176 seats.
Qantas has 67 Boeing 737 jets in its domestic fleet but that will rise to 71 by December as a result of fresh deliveries. The average age of its current fleet is 6.7 years.
Qantas is retiring older 767s from its domestic fleet by the first quarter of 2015 and refitting its A330s used on trans-continental routes with new fully-flat seats in business class from December.
Qantas has frozen its capacity in the domestic market during the quarter as a result of tough market conditions and has not ruled out maintaining the freeze for longer if there is no improvement in the external environment.
However, the upgrade in the interiors won't begin until mid-2015 and will take up to a year to complete.
The multi-million dollar investment in the 737 fleet will also improve the in-flight entertainment on many of the aircraft.
At present, 29 of the latest 737s have seat-back entertainment systems. The remaining 38 will have wireless Q-streaming installed to supplement the screens that come down from the ceiling.
Strambi said that would allow customers to stream on-demand television shows, movies and music directly to their own laptops, tablets and smartphones. Virgin Australia Holdings has already installed a similar streaming system on its fleet of 737s.
The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority is considering whether to allow electronic devices to be used throughout the entire flight as is now permitted in the United States and Europe.
Qantas has also announced other improvements for its in-flight entertainment system, including a near doubling of the amount of new release Hollywood blockbusters and introducing news broadcasts from Sky News rather than long-term provider Nine.
- Sydney Morning Herald